There’s nothing wrong with topless sunbathing
What’s so wrong with being topless on the beach, asks Bryony Gordon .
Readers of a nervous disposition should look away now. Right. Have you turned the page, moved on to the obituaries, or perhaps the weather? Then I shall begin. When I go on holiday, I like to sunbathe topless. The beach towel goes down, the book comes out, and the bikini top flies off, often in the direction of a startled looking friend who has clearly never seen a pair of breasts before. Seeing as I won’t be using the top to cover my chest, I suggest that instead they use it cover their prudish eyes.
Topless sunbathing is a wonderful thing, a holiday in itself from underwired bras. But people are turning their backs on bare bosoms. In France, where the whole thing kicked off in the sixties thanks to Brigitte Bardot, a poll revealed that the majority of women would never go topless on the beach.
It gets worse: Riviera resident Joan Collins, cementing her position as feminist icon, announced that only Wags, chavs and hookers took their tops off on the beach. A group of Australian politicians tried to ban it in 2008, with one Labour MP, Paul Gibson posing the searching question: “if you’re on the beach, do you want somebody with big knockers next to you when you’re there with the kids?” Well I don’t know Paul – if you positioned yourself right, they might just keep the wind off.
And now – mamma mia! – we learn that they’ve gone all funny about it in Italy. It was reported this week that a 26-year-old topless sunbather was being investigated for “committing an obscene act”: applying suntan lotion in a manner that “troubled” two boys aged 12 and 14. Their mother complained, the lady refused to put her top back on, and police were called to the beach, just south of Rome. The sunbather’s lawyer argued that “my client… has an ample breast and is therefore naturally going to be sensuous when she applies cream to her chest.”
Here are things I find far more offensive on a beach: speedos; “fashionable” swimming costumes with bits cut out of them; people who go for wees in the sea.
There is a time and a place for topless sunbathing, of course. As a spokesman at Debretts tells me: “You probably don’t want to do it in Battersea park”, and he is right; you want to be many hundreds of miles away from the constraints of your normal life.
Melissa Obadash, a swimwear designer, lived in Italy during her twenties and says she “always sunbathed topless. It was absolutely normal, it is normal. But you can’t do it in America. I once tried on a beach in Miami but the police came over and told me to cover up. I think it’s a bit sad that happens, that they can’t see the body as a natural, beautiful thing.” That said, Obadash thinks there should be signs on beaches “like the ones you get in theme parks, telling you to cover up if you’re over 45 or have breasts like wrinkled raisins.”
But when, exactly, did we all become such prudes? It seems funny to me that breasts are everywhere you look – on the television, in magazines, on adverts across cities – and yet, when we see a pair in real life, on a real woman, we don’t know where to look. Take the case of the woman who was this week kicked off a bus in Manchester for having the temerity to breastfeed her six-week old son. We have sexualised breasts to the point that we have forgotten what they are there for.
Many believe that the topless sunbather is an exhibitionist, a minx and a strumpet. They are mistaken – mostly, we just don’t like tan lines. And we don’t mind our breasts. Is that such a bad thing?